Then and Now: Tennessee history endures at Tipton-Haynes site

Robert Houk • Dec 1, 2019 at 12:15 PM

The Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site is dedicated to preserving the early history of Northeast Tennessee and to telling the story of the two prominent families who called the site home.

Tipton-Haynes includes 45 acres, 11 historic buildings, the Tipton/Gifford/Simerly cemetery and a limestone cave. Also on the grounds, visitors can see a buffalo trace, a nature trail and a natural spring.

The site’s Visitors Center features a permanent exhibit, a museum store and a library complete with archives.

Col. John Tipton, a hero of the American Revolution, purchased the site in 1784 after moving from Shenandoah County, Virginia, to settle in what was then Washington County, North Carolina.

In the next few years, Tipton — a North Carolina loyalist — would become embroiled in a controversy over statehood for the frontier territory.

In February of 1788, the Battle of the State of Franklin turned Tipton’s home into a battleground for Franklin independence.

Franklinites vs. Tiptonites

While tensions existed for more than three years with no major conflicts, friction between the Franklinites and the North Carolina loyalists (also called Tiptonites) eventually developed into an armed conflict.

Earlier that month, the North Carolina sheriff of Washington County, Jonathan Pugh, was ordered by the county court under Colonel John Tipton to seize property of John Sevier, governor of the state of Franklin, for taxes he owed to the state of North Carolina.

Pugh obeyed those orders and seized some of Sevier’s property, including taking several slaves from his home while Sevier was away in Greene County.

Sevier’s property and slaves were taken to Tipton’s cabin for safekeeping by the sheriff, which led to the Battle of the State of Franklin. An angry Sevier marched to Tipton’s property with 100 men on Feb 27, 1788 and positioned themselves a few hundred yards from his cabin. The colonel was now surrounded in his cabin with only his family and a handful of supporters.

The next day, Sevier sent a second flag of truce to Tipton requesting his surrender. Tipton replied: “To this flag I sent an answer, letting the men assembled there know that all I wanted was a submission to the laws of North Carolina, and if they would acquiesce with this proposal I would disband my troops here ...”

Realizing that Tipton and his small party were not going to surrender, Sevier decided to lay siege to Tipton’s cabin instead of risking any bloodshed by assaulting the cabin.

After sneaking out of Tipton’s cabin, Major Robert Love joined his brother, Thomas Love, in raising a small party to reinforce Tipton. On the evening of  Feb. 28, Major Love’s party dashed into the Tipton cabin, when it was discovered the Franklinite sentries had left their post around the cave because of bitter cold weather.

Tipton troops were reinforced again Feb. 29 when Col. George Maxwell and his North Carolina loyalists from Sullivan County reached the Tipton cabin early that morning. They arrived during a heavy snowstorm and were not detected by Sevier’s men.

Not knowing exactly who fired first, both sides fired a volley at each other and upon hearing the shots, Col. Tipton decided to attack Sevier. While dashing out of his cabin, Col. Tipton exclaimed, “Boys, every man who is a soldier come out.”

The fight was brief, but decisive. following 10 minutes of fighting, Sevier and his men retreated back to Jonesborough. The state of Franklin would be dissolved more than a year later.

Col. John Tipton would later help Tennessee become the 16th state of the Union. His advisory — John Sevier — would be elected the first governor of the state of Tennessee.

Landon Carter Haynes

After his father’s death in 1813, John Tipton Jr.  inherited the property. Before moving to Washington County, the younger Tipton was already a successful state legislator and wealthy land owner in Blountville.

He expanded his father’s cabin in the 1820s, making it a Federal-style farmhouse. He died in Nashville in 1831 while attending Tennessee’s 19th General Assembly.

The heirs of John Tipton Jr. sold the property to David and Rhoda Haynes in 1837. The couple gave the home to their eldest son, Landon Carter Haynes, as a wedding gift in 1839.

In the 1850s, Haynes expanded the former Tipton home into how it appears today. Haynes is best known for being a Confederate senator, but he was also a state legislator, farmer and newspaper editor.

Even though Haynes was defeated in a bid for Congress 1859, he still had something to celebrate. It was that same year that the U.S. government changed the Johnson’s Depot post office name to Haynesville in his honor.

After the start of the Civil War, the United States changed the name back to Johnson’s Depot, but the Confederate States of America still referred to the town as Haynesville.

After losing his home during the Civil War, Haynes moved to Memphis, where he would reside until his death in 1875.

The historic home would eventually return to the Haynes family when Sarah L. Gifford Simerly purchased the property on May 1, 1882. Simerly was the niece of Landon Carter Haynes.

Famous Visitor

Between 1785 and 1796, famed 18th century French botanist Andre´ Michaux traveled most of Eastern North America from Florida to Quebec in search of local plants and trees that would be useful to his home country.

It was from his extensive travels that he wrote two influential field guides on indigenous plant life.

He became the first professionally trained botanist to explore Tennessee when he spent the night at Col. John Tipton’s log home on May 14, 1795. He would again spend the night at the Tipton home on March 20, 1796, after exploring Roan Mountain and other areas of Tennessee, stretching to the Mississippi River.

Today, Tipton-Haynes pays tribute to Michaux and his accomplishments with an exhibit in the historic site’s museum. Along with a brief biography of Michaux, who died in 1802, is a reproduction of his journal entry detailing his flora findings at the Tipton home.